Ballarat should be a pretty good indicator of the state of the nation. A sizeable town with lots of tourist attractions, it’s well served by the racing codes and reasonably handy to the big city and the greyhound meccas in Geelong-Corio.
Two recent meetings there tell a tale. On each of those occasions, Ballarat’s Wednesday night timing coincided with State of Origin ARL matches in Sydney and Brisbane.
In the first, betting turnover dropped off when the match started, much more so in NSW than in Victoria. Punters then came back after the end of the match and boosted takings.
But the remarkable thing was that there was very little difference in Win pools between the first four races – which were all maidens – and the other eight races where performed dogs were on offer. More surprising was that none of those maiden runners had any form at all. All were first starters.
Despite that shortcoming, eastern state punters invested over a quarter of a million dollars on all totes on those four maiden races. Clearly, none of them could have been genuine “punters” but simply mug gamblers trying their luck. There was no difference between what they did and pushing a button on a poker machine.
Game 3 of the Origin series occurred on July 7 and much the same thing happened again at Ballarat. Turnover dropped as soon as the game started (by 25% to 35% depending on location) and picked up part way through the second half. In a normal week, turnover progressively declines as the night wears on and folk remember they have to go to work in the morning.
But, taking NSW and Victoria together, Race 4 – just before the kickoff – was the best of the night. It was a maiden heat over 550m.
Three messages emerge from those experiences.
First, betting is highly dependent on social factors, particularly at night. Work habits, family obligations, pay days and so on would all play a part. Nothing new about that, of course,
Second, greyhound customers are susceptible to competition from other gambling or sporting opportunities. Tabcorp is reinforcing that trend with its current major push into its Sportsbet product range, to say nothing of the side-by-side availability of the robotic Trackside options.
Third, a large proportion of greyhound customers are in the “mug gambler” category and are easily seduced by any one of a variety of gambling products. Once again, the TABs are joining in with market pressure to buy Mystery bets or high-dividend, small-chance products like the Big 6 or Quadrellas. It also encourages “boxing” three or more runners (as the Watchdog often does), which is a sure way to the poorhouse for investors but a good earner for the TAB.
It’s hard to put precise numbers on the impact of all these factors. But that’s something that should be grabbing the attention of the industry’s managers. We need research into public attitudes and the needs and practices of actual and potential punters.
Meantime, note that we are on a trend line. Little of the above occurred 20 years ago when most punters had stood shoulder to shoulder with knowledgeable people at the track. But today all the signs tell us that remotely-located mug gamblers effectively dominate the market. They over-bet favourites and play merry hell with Quinella and Trifecta dividends (via Mystery bets). Both effects turn off those few serious punters who are left.
And don’t think the effect is limited to greyhounds. For example, the last Melbourne Cup, where So You Think ran a short favourite, paid winning Trifecta punters $283 when SP figures meant the true dividend should have been over $500.
Neither the TABs or the racing codes are doing much, if anything, to attract and educate genuine punters. That’s where action is needed.